By Rebecca Leclerc, corps member serving on the Wellington Capital Management team 

“Ms. Leclerc, there’s someone outside the door.”

I had been helping one of my 5th-graders with an algebra problem, and we were sitting in homework hour during our extended day program. I looked up and saw a 4th-grade student, Alyssa*, standing at the door with her corps member, Ms. Cantrell, who asked if Alyssa could sit in the 5th-grade room for the rest of homework hour. This is one of our tools called a “buddy room.” If a student is distracting their fellow classmates, they will be asked to do their work in another grade’s classroom. It’s a great way to get a student to focus on their work and takes away the temptation to talk to their friends.

I welcomed Alyssa into our room and let her know that in 5th-grade we work silently, but that she can always ask for help. I went back to helping my 5th-grader with his algebra, but something made me look up. Alyssa had only been in our room for five minutes, yet she had already filled out three pages worth of think marks, which are questions, predictions, and connections to what she is reading. Even as a post-college level reader, it would have taken me more time to read half a chapter and write thoughtful questions, predictions or connections on all of those pages in such a short time. I went over to Alyssa* and started skimming her book, asking her questions about the characters and what was happening in the story. She looked at me with a face that said she knew that she had been caught just reading the first paragraph of each page.

I frequently have conversations with the 5th-graders about how, once they graduate and move onto middle school, the expectations will be higher. I always explain that this is why it’s important for them to do the work they’re assigned, even if they don’t always want to. I decided to have a similar conversation with Alyssa* about 5th-grade and what her future teachers will be expecting from her. As I was talking to her, my 5th-graders couldn’t help but chime in. “If you don’t do your homework, then you end up in homework academy!” blurted one student.

Another student followed, “Even if you do think marks and they can tell you were just copying stuff from the book, they’ll STILL send you to homework academy.”

“Yeah, 5th-grade is way harder than 4th-grade! Even the City Years are tougher!” added another.

These exclamations continued for a few minutes and with each interjection Alyssa’s eyes grew wider and wider. Finally, I refocused my group of 5th-graders and had them return to their work. But, I turned to Alyssa and asked if she understood why doing good think marks now was so important if she wanted to do really well in reading next year. She nodded and said, “Well how do I do 5th-grade think marks?” I could see my students had gotten through to her, so I looked around the room and saw Marcus*, one of my hardest working students. Marcus was just finishing up his reading homework, so I asked him to come over to the table we were sitting at; he approached looking a little skeptical.

“Marcus, do you think you could show Alyssa how to do a 5th-grade think mark?”

He puffed out his chest and said, “Of course Ms. Leclerc. I’m really good at them now.” For the next 15 minutes, Marcus sat with Alyssa and helped her come up with the kind of think marks we expect from our 5th-graders. I could see her actively listening as Marcus was speaking and I could tell he was excited to show someone else how much he’s improved his own work this year. These learning moments make showing up to school every day valuable, letting students recognize how much they have accomplished and see the successes that lie ahead.

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